Fires threaten parts of Western North Carolina
Multiple fires are threatening communities in Western North Carolina.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Monday November 13:
The Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County is now 75% contained and holding at 434 acres in size, according to Monday's report by the N.C. Forest Service. Firefighters will continue to aggressively mop-up inside containment lines, patrol around structures, reduce the risk of falling snags and strengthen containment lines where necessary and the Forest Service and other emergency responders are keeping a close watch on homes in the area.
And firefighting crews are making big progress in Cherokee County on a wildfire burning in the Nantahala National Forest. The Collett Ridge fire is still holding at 5,335 acres and is now more than 55% contained, up from 18% on Sunday according to a statement issued Monday morning by the U.S. Forest Service.
Sunday November 12:
The weekend's light rain aided firefighting efforts across Western North Carolina.
The Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County is now 70% contained and hasn't grown since last week, with 434 acres burned according to a statement from the NC Forest Service.
In Cherokee County, the addition of cloud cover and fog helped keep the ground damp as fighters tackled the biggest wildfire in the region, which for the first time since it started, did not grow. The Collett Ridge Fire, which started now covers 5,335 acres according Sunday's update from the U.S. Forest Service. The fire, which started on Oct, 23, is now 18% contained. More than 260 firefighting personnel are involved.
Two fires in Jackson county, including the East Fork Fire which burned around 300 acres, are now fully contained and no longer showing up on the NCFS's Wildfire Public Viewer.
Thursday late afternoon November 9:
The Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County is 434 acres and is 30% contained, according to a statement from the NC Forest Service.
“The strategic firing operation slated for today was a success. Firefighters completed the burning as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible. The burn resulted in bringing the fire edge to the already established containment lines, making them more defensible,” Incident Commander Kevin Harvell said in the statement.
NC Attorney General Josh Stein extended the price gouging ban to additional counties. The measure now applies to the following areas: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Polk, Rowan, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey counties.
The Collett Ridge Fire has grown from 454 acres since yesterday’s update to 4,372 acres. For the first time since the fire started on Oct. 23, 5% of the fire is contained.
There are 156 people working on the fire plus air support and other resources. The northeastern end of the fire is headed toward 16 structures which are being protected by the fire department.
Despite the increased humidity today, dry conditions are expected to continue because of the unseasonable warm weather. The Forest Service said that fire activity and growth are expected to continue. The community had high hopes for a strong rain this week to put out the fire but the current forecast is calling for a light rain at the end of the week.
Cherokee, Clay and Macon counties may experience Code Red air quality conditions.
There are no new road closures. The area from Big Stamp east to Shinbone Ridge to Signal Bald and a road closure is in effect from the intersection of Little Fires Creek Road, 340B, and Fires Creek Road, 340. The Rim Trail is temporarily closed for approximately 7 miles from Big Stamp to Shinbone.
Thursday afternoon November 9:
In Henderson County, the Poplar Drive Fire is now 15% contained, according to the Forest Service. The now 431-acre fire has destroyed one home, two cabins and two outbuildings. Another house has also sustained substantial damage.
Firefighters are planning to burn 2.5 acres in the area in order to keep the fire in that area contained.
“We identified an area where the fire did not burn all the way to the fire line we put in. That unburned area can be susceptible to catching fire and throwing embers if we do not handle it. The plan for a burnout of the green vegetation is the best and safest course of action for our firefighters and the citizens living near this area. Once the burn is completed, the fire line in this section will be better reinforced to keep the fire in footprint in place,” Operations Section Chief David LaFon said in a press release.
In Cherokee County, the Collett Ridge Fire is still zero percent contained.
"The main priority is always human life and keeping people informed. I feel like the Forest Service is doing an outstanding job on staying on top of things. I'm very hopeful that the rain this weekend helps the situation," Andrews Mayor James Reid said in a text message.
BPR is continuing to follow the other fires throughout the region like the East Fork and Tuckasegee Fires in Jackson County.
Wednesday evening, November 8:
In response to the wildfires, Governor Roy Cooper issued a State of Emergency.
“I am grateful for the first responders who have jumped into action to help combat the ongoing wildfires in Western North Carolina,” Cooper said. “The fires and the continued droughts across the state pose a risk to public health and safety and we want to ensure that all residents and their property remain safe and protected."
The executive order covers Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Polk, Rowan, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey counties and tribal lands held by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County is 431 acres and is 15% contained, according to the NC Forest Service.
"Firefighters have identified a 2 to 2.5 acre area of unburned vegetation along Kyles Creek Road. To mitigate the hazard of the available fire fuels, personnel will conduct strategic firing operations to reinforce the established control lines at this section of the fire," the NC Forest Service said. "Individuals within the immediate vicinity of the area will temporarily see an uptick in smoke and fire activity during the burn which will be closely monitored."
Wednesday afternoon, November 8:
Brush fires have continued to start across Western North Carolina.
Due to increased fire risk, the N.C. Forest Service has increased the counties under the burn ban from 14 counties to 30. Here's the new 16 counties added to the list: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Caldwell, Catawba, Haywood, Iredell, Lincoln, Madison, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey.
“With the long-range forecast and conditions on the ground showing no improvement, expanding the ban on open burning to additional counties is a necessary precaution,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler in a press release. “We keep a close eye on weather, fire danger and fuel conditions, especially this time of year. We’re making daily assessments, and the burn ban will be expanded into Piedmont counties and further east if needed. If you’re in a county that does not fall under the ban, think twice about any outdoor burning until we see significant, soaking rain across the state.”
Violations of the burn ban face a $100 fine plus $183 court costs. Any person responsible for setting a fire may also be liable for any expenses related to extinguishing the fire, according to the Forest Service.
The Collett Ridge Fire in Cherokee County has continued to grow to 3,918 acres, according to a Forest Service update Wednesday morning.
Yesterday firefighters started establishing handline near the Macon and Cherokee County Line on the east side of the fire, tying in the line to the established dozer line in the Kimsey Cove area, according to the Forest Service.
There are a number of road closures in the area. A road closure is in effect from the intersection of Little Fires Creek Road, 340B, and Fires Creek Road, 340. The Rim Trail is temporarily closed for approximately seven miles from Big Stamp to Shinbone.
In Jackson County, two wildfires burned on either end of the county in East Fork and Tuckasegee Communities. The East Fork fire has scorched 300 acres and is now 80% contained, according to the latest update by the U.S. Forest Service. Crews spent most of Wednesday reinforcing containment lines and contingency lines around the fire.
Crews are also still on the scene at the Crane Road Fire in Tuckasegee, said Jackson County Emergency Management said on Tuesday.
Sarah Rehmann lives and works in Tuckasegee as the owner of Cullowheegee Farms. On Monday evening, Rehmann said she smelled smoke and soon after, firefighters headed into the forest behind her house to contain the fire.
“They just walked all up the mountain with like hand tools and like leaf blowers where there were getting ready to start digging trenches and then as the night progressed more trucks came and then they started to bulldoze,” Rehmann said.
“It started to get dark, and they were burning it closer and closer to our house.
And that's where that picture was which was about the fire itself was about 50 yards from our back door,” Rehmann said.
She said firefighters bulldozed containment lines on their 11-acre property, but she didn’t know what to do to protect her family’s home. Unfortunately, their outdoor water was not working so Rehmann filled up buckets of water in the sink just in case.
“We make soap and we use five-gallon buckets, so we filled all of our buckets. We have like 15 five-gallon buckets full of water in our house right now all in our kitchen and just like ready to go,” she said.
She said she heard the fire started because of a neighbor over the ridge burning trash.
By Tuesday afternoon, the fire was out, but the woods are still smoldering, she said. Rehmann said she is hoping for rain and that the wind doesn’t stir up any old sparks.
Just a reminder, the N.C. Forest Service has issued a ban on all open burning and has canceled all burning permits for Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain and Transylvania counties until further notice.
Tuesday evening, November 7:
The Poplar Drive Fire is now 15% contained, according to the NC Forest Service.
"Percent containment represents sections of fire line that pose no escape risk without further action from firefighters," the statement sad.
The 431 acre fire in Henderson County "continues to back, creep and smolder within the fire imprint, indicating low intensity fire activity."
Cherokee, Clay and Macon counties remain in Code Red Air Quality condition, according to NC DEQ.
Monday evening, November 6:
The Poplar Drive Fire in Henderson County remains at 431 acres in size and 5% contained, according to a North Carolina Forest Service statement Monday evening.
"The fire is currently backing, creeping and smoldering in the unburned pockets within the fire’s footprint," the statement said.
The announcement also reminded the public to keep drones away from wildfires.
"While drones provide unique opportunities for aerial video and imagery of wildfire activity, they are unauthorized" the statement said. "Flying a drone near or around a wildfire compromises the safety of pilots and interferes with firefighting efforts."
The North Carolina Division of Air Quality issued a Code Red alert for Cherokee, Clay and Macon counties and a Code Orange alert for Graham, Swain, Jackson, Transylvania and Henderson Counties including the Southern Ridge Tops.
According to the Division's website, the alerts are expected to continue on Tuesday due to no major changes to the prevailing weather pattern.
In Jackson County, several crews are working to contain a fire in the East Fork community, according to Emergency Management. The fire, located within the Savannah Fire District, is approximately 125 acres, according to the Forest Service.
“There are currently no active threats to the community,” according to the Emergency Management post.
"Fire behavior is very active and is burning in steep and rugged terrain. Firefighters are working on establishing containment lines around the fire and conducting burn out operations where terrain and weather conditions allow," according to a statement from the Forest Service.
The Town of Franklin also issued a “Fire Danger Declaration,” which imposes a burn ban on top of the statewide ban. The Macon County Fire Marshall’s office also issued a ban within 100 feet of a residence.
“Significant rainfall will be required before conditions improve enough to permit outdoor burning,” the order said.
On Saturday, two people in Macon County perished in a residential fire.
Monday afternoon, November 6:
Low humidity and increased wind continues to create risk in the Poplar Drive fire area, Edneyville Fire Chief Robert Griffin said in a briefing Monday afternoon.
Attorney General Josh Stein announced the state's price gouging law is in effect in Henderson County where the fire has spread to more than 400 acres.
The statute goes into effect when the Governor, the legislature, a county, or a municipality declares a state of emergency. Henderson County declared a state of emergency effective at 7:00 p.m., Sunday, November 5.
The law prohibits businesses from unreasonably raising the price of goods or services to profit from an emergency.
The office asked residents to report potential price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint at https://ncdoj.gov/pricegouging.
Monday morning, November 6:
Above normal temperatures and ongoing drought are fueling wildfires in Western North Carolina.
In Cherokee County, the Collett Ridge Fire, just south of the town of Andrews in the Nantahala National Forest has tripled in size since Saturday and now covers more than 2100 acres.
Andrews Mayor James Reid drove toward the fire at about 5am on Monday morning to check on the situation. He posted live on Facebook from Junaluska Road near one of the hillsides that is on fire.
“It is burning slow down the hill. I can see a couple of tree tops up the hill that are burning,” Reid said.
Around 9am, Reid told BPR he is worried that the fire is headed for homes that were previously safe.
“I think the wind got up a little bit last night and made it a little more dangerous. But everybody's very concerned,” Reid said.
In Cherokee County, the Rim Trail is temporarily closed for approximately 7 miles from Big Stump to Shinbone. There are no road or area closures at this time however, the public should avoid the area so fire crews and resources can work safely.
Along with the fire threat, smoke is impacting air quality across the region. The Department of Environmental Quality has issued an air quality alert for Cherokee and surrounding counties.
“Even if you're not worried about the fire, the air quality is so bad. We've got elderly that have breathing problems and other things. There's no way to keep it from coming inside your house. The houses are getting smoky. I work at the high school and in the gymnasium is smoky. It's just a real presence of smoke everywhere,” Reid said.
An air quality alert is also in effect further east in Henderson County, where a brush fire has covered more than 400 acres in the Edneyville community, destroying two homes and damaging several other structures, according to the latest update from the NC Forest Service. The county has declared a state of emergency.
Henderson County Chief Communications Officer Mike Morgan said crews from local fire departments are working on protecting structures, while NC Forest Service crews focus on trying to contain the fire, which started November 3, and as of Monday morning, was 5% contained.
“They are working hard to keep this from spreading anymore, we’ve got very dry conditions, the wind is blowing. You know, mother nature can be dangerous and crazy,” said Morgan. “So we just tell folks, who live in this area - just be on the alert.”
No injuries have been reported from either fire.
On Sunday, the NC Forest Service issued a ban on all open burning for 14 Western counties; Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Gaston, Graham, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain and Transylvania counties.
“Even though not all areas of the North Carolina fall under the burn ban, we do encourage extreme caution with any burning as conditions are dry in many areas of the state," Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in the news release. "We will continue to assess conditions in the coming weeks to determine if we need to expand the burn ban.”
Buncombe County followed suit, issuing a similar ban the same day, citing the dry conditions and high fire danger.
The ban does not include fires contained in a pit, barbecue grill, or chiminea device smaller than 3 feet in diameter, according to the news release.
The forecast calls for rain at the end of the week, and community members hope that nature will put a stop to the current conditions.